Age of Iron
by J.M. Coetzee
Boss of her Boss?
Florence is Mrs. Curren's housekeeper. She's also the mother of Bheki, Hope, and Beauty. We don't get to know her right away because she's out of town visiting her family. When she returns with her children, however, the novel's conflicts really seem to roll into motion. We learn right away that Florence is all business. She's not a warm, chipper Mary Poppins figure by any means. In fact, even though Florence is Mrs. Curren's employee, Mrs. Curren seems to be a little bit afraid of her. Florence has no qualms about talking back to her boss and voicing her opinions. One topic that she speaks about in an especially forceful way is Vercueil's place in Mrs. Curren's home. She thinks that Vercueil is good for nothing and doesn't deserve to be there. She also looks at Mrs. Curren like she's crazy when Mrs. Curren insists that Vercueil is her "messenger."
…But Not of her Kids
For someone who seems to be so opinionated, Florence is surprisingly lax when it comes to her own kids – the only thing she seems to be really intense about is how thoroughly she bathes her daughters. Florence's hands-off attitude is especially apparent with Bheki (though, we mean, Hope and Beauty are pretty young, so they can't really get into too much trouble just yet). When Mrs. Curren discovers that Bheki and his friend have been sleeping in her garage without her permission, she tries to confront Florence about it. Florence acts like it's not her problem – in fact, she acts like Mrs. Curren is being sort of selfish by getting so possessive about her personal property. Florence also seems downright pleased when Bheki gets in a fight with Vercueil and whips him with his belt.
Mrs. Curren seems to have kind of a hard time talking to Florence about Bheki's behavior and the trouble into which he gets himself. Florence is pretty direct about her opinions on the roots of these problems: it's the whites. She acknowledges that kids today are getting too violent but, she argues, it's the white people who made it necessary to be so violent. She's generally distrustful of the police (though, as we find out, the police are indeed anything but trustworthy), and she doesn't want to get involved with them when Bheki and John get into their bike accident. When she's at Mrs. Curren's house, Florence seems to be almost overly hateful and paranoid, but when we see what happens to Bheki at Gugulethu and the kind of horrors that are part of her everyday life, we can totally see where she's coming from.Timeline